Saddle Up Week for First-Year Students in Full Swing at UW

Program upgrades include tailored schedules, more social activities

The Class of 2027 leaves the “We Are UW” keynote speech on Sunday during Saddle Up week. (Wyoming Truth photo by Karter Dunham)

By Karter Dunham

Special to the Wyoming Truth

LARAMIE, Wyo.—  When Dylan Chatterley, 18, arrived at the University of Wyoming’s White Hall dormitory on Friday, he didn’t know what to expect.

Brody Paxton, of Crescent, Iowa, plays table soccer on Sunday at Prexy’s Rec Day for Saddle Up week. (Wyoming Truth photo by Karter Dunham)

“I was really excited to get the university experience, but I was nervous about what’s going to happen with everything,” Chatterley, a first-generation college student from Rock Springs, said about move-in day. “You never know where the weather is going to take you.”  

Unpacking and settling into his dorm room was only part of Chatterley’s early experience on campus. The other part: participating in Saddle Up, a mandatory program to help ease first-year students’ transition to college academics and life.

The program kicked off its second year on Saturday, with significant changes from 2022. Nycole Courtney, Dean of Student Success and Graduation, said UW made the adjustments to Saddle Up after completing over 45 listening sessions with stakeholders last year.

Berlynn Traughber, 18, from Big Piney, competes against Liz Bohlken, 19, from Wymore, Nebraska in a game of corn hole at Prexy’s Rec Day during Saddle Up week. (Wyoming Truth photo by Karter Dunham) 

“We made changes such as more engagement with faculty, ensuring students had the opportunity to decorate their room, be with their roommates, hang out, have resting moments,” she told the Wyoming Truth.

Further changes to Saddle Up include optional gatherings, longer mealtimes and schedules tailored to each student’s interests.  

Students were assigned to individual “pokes packs,” led by 150 leaders, with 32 of them serving as trail bosses — or mentors — throughout the week. The packs were determined by academic majors, allowing groups of like-minded students to intermingle, meet faculty and learn about department offerings.  

“Essentially, it’s kind of how we have our macroeconomics class setup, where each day they will go home and be navigated to Canvas [UW’s online service for coursework] and have a homework assignment,” said trail boss Avery O’Brien, a 20-year-old junior and finance major from Rock Springs, who is leading a pack of business majors. “Now this is not your regular everyday semester work. We kind of toned it down a bit, so they can just get the hang of it for this week.”

Dylan Chatterley, 18, of Rock Springs, participates in the University of Wyoming’s Saddle Up week. A first-generation college student, Chatterley plans to major in psychology. (Wyoming Truth photo by Karter Dunham)

On Monday, each cohort headed off to their own class schedules. The week-long courses were simulations of a typical college week and culminated in a final exam. UW also incorporated trips to the STEP tutoring center during the regimented days to introduce first-years to the study resources available on campus.  

“It is coursework, but it’s in such a low-stakes environment that it allows them to learn how to take a college class,” said trail boss Brooklyn Prince, a 22-year-old senior and microbiology major from Cheyenne. “The grade is very little based on how they actually academically perform. It’s more of learning how to be in a college class when it’s so different from high school.”

But Saddle Up wasn’t all work with no play. Each evening, students had the opportunity to participate in different activities, including a movie night on the football field, glow games, a dorm hall campfire and more.

Bradyn Adels, 18, of Casper, winds up for a throw at the rope toss game at Prexy’s Rec Day on Sunday. (Wyoming Truth photo by Karter Dunham)

“My favorite part of Saddle Up is giving students an experience that I did not get to have,” Prince said. “I came in as a freshman during COVID, and it was really hard for me to build community, make friends and find resources on campus that I so badly needed.”  

Though Saddle Up was implemented post-COVID in 2022, it primarily serves as a way to build community and improve student retention.

“I don’t think it’s a reaction to COVID,” said Courtney. “Yes, it was something that came after COVID. But it is certainly something that we know is beneficial for students who want to choose the University of Wyoming.”

Saddle Up continues through August 26, just in time for the rest of campus to get back in full swing for the start of a new semester.

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